Email Marketing for Restaurants & Bars: An Ultimate Guide

Email Marketing for Restaurants & Bars: An Ultimate Guide
February 5, 2020 Levi Olmstead

When you think about the types of businesses that benefit the most from email marketing, do restaurants and bars come to mind?

If they didn’t and you work in that sector, then this eGuide is for you. Email marketing for restaurants and bars has never been more important in creating brand awareness and building a loyal customer base.

Last year, over half of the world population used email and the trend will only continue to grow. In fact, the number of email users worldwide is expected to exceed 4.3 billion by the end of 2023. Each day, email is one of the first things we check as soon as we wake up in the morning. This behavior exemplifies just how pivotal emails have become to our day-to-day and why it’s essential to include this channel in your digital marketing strategy. 

In this eGuide, we explain why email marketing for restaurants and bars is so important for sustainable growth and success. We also cover best practices and tools to help you plan and execute an effective email marketing strategy.

With some great examples of successful email marketing campaigns created by other restaurants and bars, you’ll gain the practical knowledge and creative inspiration to be able to create your own successful campaigns and grow your customer base.

What is Email Marketing?

At its basic level, email marketing is exactly what it says, that is, using email to market products or services. But going beyond the literal meaning of the term, effective email marketing is being able to use the email channel as a way to develop relationships with potential customers and increase awareness and knowledge of your brand. 

Since its onset, marketers have used email as a way to spam consumers, inundating their inboxes with unsolicited messages.

However, if you’re able to build up an email list of customers and anyone else who wants communications from your business, email is a great way to keep them informed of special promotions, new menu offerings and any other type of information they would find important and relevant.


Above: Example of a Qdoba Rewards email campaign promoting its catering service.

5 Benefits of Email Marketing for Restaurants and Bars

Email is an easy-to-use, cost-effective and reliable marketing channel when it comes to maintaining communication between your brand and customers. It allows you to keep in touch with your current customers and show them you value their loyalty and business, as well as gain new customers through attractive promotions. 

Below are five benefits to using email marketing for your restaurant or bar:

1. It’s cost-effective and yields better results than other marketing channels

Even though a lot of attention is paid to Facebook, Instagram, and overall social media marketing when it comes to the hospitality sector, the organic reach of these social platforms depends upon the ever changing algorithms, while the paid reach depends on how much you’re willing to spend. 

But when it comes to email marketing, you can ensure that you’re reaching the right audience at a fraction of the cost of paid advertising because you’ve built up an email list of folks who have given consent to be contacted and are interested in hearing from you. 

Studies have shown that email delivers better results than any other channel. In fact, when compared against Facebook or Twitter, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers. What’s more, email marketing consistently generates the highest ROI, with $38 being earned for every dollar spent.

TIP: Combine email marketing and social efforts to get the most out of your restaurant or bar. Check out our social media marketing for restaurants guide to learn more.

2. You can build lasting relationships 

Unlike popular belief, email marketing is more than just sharing information through emails. You can use it to help build lasting relationships and pave the way for customer loyalty. Email provides a simple, yet effective, way to acknowledge and thank customers for their recent visit, and executing restaurant loyalty programs

Another great way to build a strong relationship through email is by asking customers for feedback on their last visit so you can ensure a high standard is maintained. You can also provide discounts or special offers as a reward for their feedback.

Emails are also useful in bringing back past customers who haven’t visited in a while. The possibilities for using email marketing to enhance your relationships with customers are endless if you apply a bit of creativity.


Above: Example of Outback Steakhouse’s customer loyalty rewards program sign up form.

3. Email marketing is a great way to generate more foot traffic during slow periods

There are always slow periods that restaurants and bars face depending on seasonality, the weather, food trends and a whole slew of other factors. In order to combat these lulls, businesses will often launch exclusive deals, promotional offers, and restaurant marketing campaigns to increase foot traffic and sales. 

But patrons aren’t going to visit your establishment if they don’t even know about the offers. That’s where email comes into play as a great way to communicate to your audience. Email campaigns can be sent out at any time, so if you’re able to predict which period of time you want to set your promotion for, you can swiftly reach your audience, even in real-time.

4. Email campaigns are easy to create and modify with time

Even if you have no prior experience with email marketing, creating campaigns doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need is an email list, an email marketing tool and content. Most of the email marketing tools available have pre-set templates.

This is the case for both free and paid options. Once you send out your campaign, these tools also make it easy to monitor open rates and modify your content if needed. 

5. Email marketing allows you to segment users and target personas

We’ve all received printed pamphlets and restaurant menus in the mail. But very few of us end up saving these and referring back to them when deciding where to eat. Let’s be honest – they usually go straight into recycling. 

Designing, printing and distributing those marketing materials not only requires a lot of time and effort but also incurs high costs. Emails, on the other hand, can deliver the same or, in fact, more information than printed materials at a fraction of the cost. What’s more, you can customize these emails by customer segment, which will have a much more significant impact.

Email Marketing Best Practices

When it comes to email marketing for restaurants and bars, there are certain best practices that, if applied well, will help you be successful in executing campaigns that bring traffic to your business.

While initially it may take some trial and error, even the most amateur marketer can master email marketing by following these best practices:

  • Test your campaign before sending it to your email list. What’s worse than sending out a newsletter to the wrong list of subscribers, or something that has spelling errors? Whenever you create an email campaign, make sure you test it so you know how the content is going to be laid out and double check how the list is being segmented.
  • Personalize your content whenever possible. When you customize your emails and address recipients by their name, it makes a much more significant and lasting impact than anything generic. While email personalization may seem like a small element, it can make a difference for the reader and adds a special touch in being valued as a customer.
  • Experiment with drip campaigns in order to maintain engagement. You can design a series of emails that can be automated and sent out according to specific dates or triggers. For example, if someone just visited your establishment, you can send them a thank you email requesting feedback, and then follow up with another email offering a discount on their next return visit.
  • Offer exclusive rewards and deals by being on the emailing list. The best way to grow your email list and keep subscribers opening your emails is by offering them exclusive promotions not offered anywhere else.


"For us, it’s so simple: we don’t have to deal with food preparation and we get to feature food items from amazing chefs in our neighborhood.”

3 Great Examples of Restaurant Email Marketing Campaigns

Designing a compelling email marketing campaign can be tricky, especially if you’ve never done it before.

The most important thing is to understand what you want people to do after reading your email content. Do you want them to visit your restaurant, provide feedback, write a review, etc.? Knowing what your goal is will help guide you on how to create your email campaign. 

Here are three great examples of email campaigns created by restaurants. Each campaign was created with a specific goal in mind.

1. Backyard Burgers

Email Campaign: Welcome emails that offer special deals to entice people to visit your establishment.

When someone signs up for your email list, a great way to thank and encourage them to visit your restaurant or bar is to offer a special deal.

Consider this email from Backyard Burgers. The email welcomes the recipient to their “Clubhouse” and includes a voucher for a free burger as a token of appreciation. They even include the option to find the nearest restaurant so that the offer can be redeemed.


2. Longhorn Steakhouse

Email Campaign: Promoting menus for special occasions

Special occasions like birthdays, Mother’s Day, or the holidays are prime times when people go out to eat and celebrate. 

In the example to the right, Longhorn Steakhouse created an email campaign promoting menu items that would be perfect for a Valentine’s Day treat. And since traffic is high during these times, you can also include a “Make Your Reservation” button in your email so that readers can secure their spot ahead of time.


3. Houlihan’s

Email Campaign: Creating momentum for limited-time menu items

Restaurants and bars often design exclusive menu options or discounts that are only available during a specified period of time. Such campaigns encourage patrons to visit at certain times in order to take advantage of the promotion. This is great for driving traffic during slow periods.

In this example, Houlihan announces a new brunch option with drinks only available on the weekends and encourages readers to view the new menu.


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5 Best Email Marketing Tools for Restaurants and Bars

Now that you have a general idea of what email marketing is and how it can be beneficial for your restaurant or bar, the next critical step is selecting the right tool to make it all happen. Email marketing tools help you design, send and analyze your email marketing campaigns.

Here are the five best email marketing tools that will set you up for success:


1. Mailchimp

Review Rating: 4.3/5 stars

Considered as one of the industry’s best email marketing solutions, Mailchimp is trusted by millions of users across the world. They offer a free version that allows you to send to a subscriber list of less than 2,000 recipients. They also offer pre-made templates or you can create your own with their easy-to-use design studio.


2. GetResponse

Review Rating: 4.1/5 stars

This is another popular choice among email marketers. What’s particularly unique about GetResponse is that they offer a special feature that allows users to identify the best time to send an email to a particular audience. You also have the ability to choose from 21 different languages, so you can even create language-specific email content depending on your audience.


3. Aweber

Review Rating: 4.1/5 stars

Aweber is one of the easiest to use email marketing solutions available today. Its drag-and-drop features help users customize any of their pre-designed templates. The user-friendly interface and pocket-friendly pricing structure make Aweber a favorite amongst small restaurant and bar owners.


4. ActiveCampaign

Review Rating: 4.6/5 stars

This platform is an all-in-one marketing automation, CRM, and email marketing solution. It is a relatively new kid on the block, but its powerful features such as marketing automation, custom user permission and domain name pack quite the punch. ActiveCampaign offers a basic feature plan for starters and several advanced plans for larger businesses. If you run into any technical problems, they have a top notch support team to help you.


5. Constant Contact

Review Rating: 3.9/5 stars

As the name suggests, Constant Contact helps you maintain constant contact with your customers. You can choose from a wide range of pre-designed templates and building tools. What’s more, this tool also allows you to add options for online donations and coupons.

Next Steps with Restaurant and Bar Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing channels today. With fierce competition in the restaurant and bar sector, businesses need to adapt to technological advancements and take advantage of all the tools available to them. With the right email marketing strategy and emailing platform, restaurants and bars have the potential to exponentially increase their audience with just a few clicks.